When my nine-year-old son rode his scooter down a steep hill in flip flops, and took a nasty tumble that resulted in a broken collarbone, the pain and suffering that followed made perfect sense. In fact, too much sense, and annoyingly so, because I had said just moments before the fall, “You really should be wearing sneakers.” That was one of those mom moments when you are so afraid and worried for your child, but also really angry and sort of want to scream at them, because good grief, come on now kids, just listen to your mother! You would endure significantly less pain... if only you listened and did as told.
And this sort of became my mantra for my relationship with God and fast-growing renewal of faith. As a woman who did not always follow the straight and narrow, who lived off of reactions and emotions that had her tossed upon the waves of circumstance, once I encountered Jesus on my filthy bathroom floor (because of course, that would be how my story goes), I knew that the only way to live happily and peacefully was to simply listen, and then to do what He says. Not to listen to me. Not even to listen to my friends. And definitely not to listen to the ladies on Sex and The City, no matter how much fun they always appeared to be having. But listen to God. To Him. To who is Faithful and True. Do what HE says. And your suffering will be minimal. Everything will make sense.
Until it doesn't.
Because sometimes suffering does not make sense. Sometimes we do listen and sometimes we do obey and even so, sometimes….the pain is just too much and seemingly for no reason. And I speak from a very personal perspective. God has been leading me through the bitter valley for way too long, as far as I am concerned. Sure, I know, HIS will be done...but I am starting to wonder if my will ought to be given, at the very least, a try. Because people keep telling me this is not my whole story, it is only a chapter, and well if that is the case, then God really needs to find a new editor because He is writing way too long of a chapter and it is seriously time to move on. I just don't understand what He is doing, and when I am in this place of doubt and questioning, I look up to the heavens and I say some things to God that I can not write in this space without being asked by my editor to please come up with an alternative word...because this moment right here? The moment when you feel like your life is a glass snow globe and you just got picked up by some crazy kid with a sick love of shaking the living daylights out of things, and you can no longer see, feel or hear anything...and you are paralyzed in a snowstorm of confusion that appears to have no end? This right here is where the greatest spiritual damage happens. This right here is where our faith takes a hit. And it has nothing to do with the actual pain and suffering.
I know. Weird. Makes no sense. Right? How can that be? If the pain and suffering are not what is causing us to lose strength and faith, than what on earth is? Because I certainly know plenty of people who were good church-going folk, who stopped being good church-going folk once they were hit with a tragedy, loss, season of intense suffering. I chalked it up to not a strong enough faith...roots weren't deep enough...they were just too angry. But actually, that is not true. So if it is not the suffering that causes us to trade in our Sunday worship for pilates and an iced latte, then what is?
This, my sweet friends, was my biggest lesson learned from the Fearless and Free study. Lisa Brenninkmeyer quotes Dr. James Dobson, a licensed psychologist and marriage, family and child counselor, who has this to say about the impact of suffering on people's faith:
It is an incorrect view of Scripture to say that we will always comprehend what God is doing and how our suffering and disappointment fit into His plan. Sooner or later, most of us will come to a point where it appears that God has lost control - or interest - in the affairs of people. It is only an illusion, but one with dangerous implications for spiritual and mental health. Interestingly enough, pain and suffering do not cause the greatest damage. Confusion is the factor that shreds one's faith. (emphasis added) ...The human spirit is capable of withstanding enormous discomfort, including the prospect of death, if the circumstances make sense. (1)
And I can't imagine I am the only one who has been there, who is there, who will one day be there; in the midst of a suffering so great, a suffering that makes no sense at all - because you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, and still nothing is right. And so you find yourself back in that snow globe with no other choice other than to yell at this good God and ask Him, “What the heck are you doing? Are you even doing anything?? Can you please, please, please just end this now? Fix everything. I don't understand it. You have to step in and clean this mess up now. Because I am not the girl for this...you have got me all wrong.”
And we all know how God gets things wrong, right?
Lisa shares in Lesson Six, Day Four, of Fearless and Free how she brought this very question to her counselor; the question we all wrestle with, if we are being honest. “If we are following you, God, if we are doing what we are supposed to be doing, why is this so hard?” (2) And her counselor said this:
“Our culture equates hard with bad, and easy with good. But what if that's wrong? What if hard is actually good? Sometimes marriage is hard work, but isn't that when something really good is being created? What if we are looking at things from the wrong perspective?” (3)
This struck me and gave me much to think about a year ago when I first read it. And I still find myself wrestling with this today. And what I hate about all of this is...I agree with it. It is the confusion - not the suffering - that gets my head spinning, has me pacing from room to room, forgetting what I set out to do, too distracted to work or pray, quick-tempered with my loved ones, drawn to catastrophic thinking and worst case scenarios, leaving purchased items at Target because I used the self check-out against my better judgement, because my well of patience has run dry and I mean honestly...why is that cashier so slow and does the woman in front of me seriously need all those beach towels and decorative pillows? I think not.
I am ranting. I know. Welcome to my inner thoughts run by confusion in the midst of pain and suffering.
And I'd love nothing more right now than to wrap this up nice and neat by telling you I am fighting back hard in my leather pants and Warrior stance. I am going back to the “I declares,” memorizing Scripture, and taking every thought captive to Christ. But the truth? I am not. I am still fighting the battle of confusion. I am still very much afraid. And I am still lingering in the demand to know “why” and “when does this end?” I am still trying to make sense of the absolute senseless. And I am still stuck in that snowglobe, in the eye of the storm, and the shaking, I fear, has no end.
And yet even so, as I feel tempted to focus on the confusion, when I cannot find the words to pray, I still fall asleep holding tight to my rosary - the ultimate weapon. I continue to keep the holy names of Mary and Jesus on my lips before I slip off to sleep. I still rise up with the sun and get my coffee and sit in my prayer spot, even if the words do not immediately come, even if the prayer is never said. And I sit here, in quiet surrender. I allow myself to be held. I turn my face towards Him, my safeguard and fortress, my rock and my shield, the commander who is training my hands for battle, my fingers for war. (Psalm 144) I do not move. And maybe to the world, this doesn't look strong and brave. Maybe to my foe, I look small and fragile. But make no mistake, my friend. This? This right here is the stance of a warrior. This right here is a fierce woman who will not back down. Remaining open to Him when nothing makes sense? This is my greatest offering.
Sweet friends, if this is you too, I pray you are comforted to know that I am there with you. I pray that we both know that despite feeling alone, we are not. That although we are broken, we can still be brave, and that despite not understanding, He will work all things for our good. Never, ever, for a single second, allow yourself to believe that just because you do not have the strength to pull up those leather pants (or fit in them, for that matter), you are not a Warrior. You are every bit a Warrior. And if all you do today is hold your ground - staking a claim to your territory and not letting the enemy steal even an inch - then you my friend are doing more than enough. You, my friend, are a fierce, and victorious warrior in battle.
And finally, I pray that all of our children listen to their moms. That they wear their sneakers while riding down steep hills on scooters. Because their fall is inevitable. Their pain unpreventable. And well, sneakers on scooters just makes sense.
With you in the battle, holding our ground -
Is confusion because of suffering causing your faith to take a hit? In what area of your life do you believe God is asking you to accept His will, to give your fiat, even when questions remain unanswered? Email your thoughts, comments, and prayers to firstname.lastname@example.org, then join me Thursday at 10 AM EST on Instagram Live as we continue the Fearless and Free discussion!
(1) James Dobson, When God Doesn't Make Sense (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2012),13.
(2) Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Fearless and Free (Walking With Purpose, 2018), 147.
(3) Fearless and Free, 147.